Skip to content
Catholic Online Logo

By Deal W. Hudson

3/30/2014 (1 year ago)

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of thirty years ago. The value of cultivating and encouraging good taste is no -mere- luxury.

It\'s inevitable that we seek the absolute in our most earnest and passionate endeavors. Being a people more invested in music and entertainment than in morality, it\'s no surprise that fans become fanatical. We often forget that one reason we need God is so our unavoidable, infinite desire for him isn\'t squandered foolishly or violently. Bad taste pollutes and diminishes our public life not simply because it promotes inferior art but because it promotes all the manners and morals that come in its train. Bad taste results in the enjoyment of vulgar TV and banal music, which leads to boring conversation, brutish manners, and obviously violent behavior.

Highlights

By Deal W. Hudson

Catholic Online (www.catholic.org)

3/30/2014 (1 year ago)

Published in U.S.

Keywords: taste, manners, habits, virtue, decorum, dignity, deportment, habits, respect, culture, literate, educated, Deal W. Hudson


WASHINGTON,DC (Catholic Online) - I have not looked at Chaucer's Canterbury Tales for years until I started reading Peter Ackyrod's new "retelling" in a sparkling prose which maintains the spirit and tone of the original Middle English verse.  As Chaucer's narrator describes his fellow pilgrims in the General Prologue, I was taken aback by two straight-forward assertions: individuals can be judged by their clothing and table manners. 

At table she had been well taught withal,
And never from her lips let morsels fall,
Nor dipped her fingers deep in sauce, but ate
With so much care the food upon her plate
That never driblet fell upon her breast.

(General Prologue 127-131)

I was brought up by my parents to believe manners and appearance were important, and telling. I've employed these criteria my entire adult life - but without saying too much about it out loud. Appearance and manners are no longer viewed as providing norms for judging a person's character.  In fact, to admit placing much importance on how people appear, carry themselves, conduct themselves in public, or at the dinner table is considered by most as snobbery. 

But I can't stop myself from doing it, largely because it has been proven as a reliable, though far from perfect, guide to what people will be like as you get to know them better. The few conversations I've engaged in on this subject have quickly moved to the question of taste.  To say something is "a matter of taste" supposedly consigns it to the realm of subjectivity where no norms or standards abide.

However, taste is a strong indicator of  identity and, in some cases, character: our preferences in the arts have always betrayed strong affinities for certain lifestyles and moral attitudes. We express these allegiances in our dress, our grooming, and our habits of play and recreation. (For example, I despise backwards baseball caps and gum-chewing.)

It's the way we create our identity through our appearance, our likes and dislikes, and what we value that makes taste as explosive an issue as religion and politics. Whoever it was who first said, De gustibus non est disputandum - there can be no disputes in matters of taste - has been proven wrong, once and for all.

The general silence on the value of taste, it seems to me, stems from an obvious cause. We earnestly discuss our "shared" values in an attempt to draw people together, to create a new consensus on the subject of morality. We can confidently espouse our belief in peace, justice, and love, knowing that only the most beastly among us would dare disagree. Such moral generalities guarantee a minimum of quarreling. Mention taste, however, and this happy unanimity begins to crumble.

Why? Because taste is always about a specific object, this movie or that piece of music. Propose the importance of good taste and people immediately cringe at the possibility that their taste will be found lacking. Questions about taste quickly turn toward the concrete in a way that justice and love do not (but should)! "What's wrong with Pulp Fiction? I liked it!"

The fact that disputes over taste quickly turn to particular films or novels is refreshing: For a moment we are actually freed from the airiness of the theoretical. We suddenly feel the weight of what values are actually for - to make judgments, based upon universal standards, about concrete things and actual practices.

Thus, the mere mention of taste actually raises the long-ignored substantive issues about the nature of value itself. We have grown used to ignoring its function as an external measure of actions and character. Taste forces us to face up to the deeper questions we want to avoid. Is this object I have just enjoyed, good for me, or bad?

It's ironic, isn't it, that taste raises the problem of objectivity in values while seeming to be the most subjective of judgments? In fact, it is commonly heard in the history of ethics that contemporary moral theory resembles aesthetics - moral values gradually are being re-duced to matters of "mere taste."

For years I argued lightheartedly with my students about the down-ward spiral of popular music. One day I realized: The argument wasn't about beauty - the quality of melody, harmony, rhythm, or lyrics - it was about the identity they felt through their musical preferences. As much as the aestheticians would like to limit the experience of art to pleasure alone, it's clear that the sociological-moral dimension can't be denied.

It's inevitable that we seek the absolute in our most earnest and passionate endeavors. Being a people more invested in music and entertainment than in morality, it's no surprise that fans become fanatical. We often forget that one reason we need God is so our unavoidable, infinite desire for him isn't squandered foolishly or violently.

Bad taste pollutes and diminishes our public life not simply because it promotes inferior art but because it promotes all the manners and morals that come in its train. Bad taste results in the enjoyment of vulgar TV and banal music, which leads to boring conversation, brutish manners, and obviously violent behavior.

The hegemony of bad taste is evident everywhere - it's the dominant form of the incivility that people are complaining about - the back-wards baseball caps, the cursing comedians, the murderous drivers, the tattoos and navel rings, the tell-all talk shows, starting every sentence with "like," our obsession with the dark side of celebrity lives, and so-called saggy pants.

Of course, the knee-jerk answer from parents whose kids are running around listening to rap music and emulating rappers' dress will be, "Well, I wore beads and long hair in the '60s and I got over it." My response is: "You may have gotten over it, but we all know people who are still using drugs with grey-haired friends while the children are asleep upstairs." The culture, it is clear to see, is still reeling from the bad taste of thirty years ago. The value of cultivating and encouraging good taste is no "mere" luxury.

Deal W. Hudson, Ph.D

-----
Deal W. Hudson is president of the Morley Institute of Church and Culture, Senior Editor and Movie Critic at Catholic Online, and former publisher and editor of Crisis Magazine.This column and subsequent contributions are an excerpt from a forthcoming book. Dr. Hudson's new radio show, Church and Culture, is heard on the Ave Maria Radio Network.

---


Pope Francis: end world hunger through 'Prayer and Action'


Copywriter 2015 - Distributed by THE NEWS CONSORTIUM

Pope Francis Prayer Intentions for March 2015
Universal:
Scientists: That those involved in scientific research may serve the well-being of the whole human person.
Evangelization: Contribution of women: That the unique contribution of women to the life of the Church may be recognized always.


Rosaries, Crosses, Prayer Cards and more... by Catholic Shopping .com


Comments


More U.S.

Islamic State's seduction, recruitment of Americans under scrutiny Watch

Image of At least 25 Probable American recruits have been detained since January.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

U.S. prosecutions of would-be recruits to Islamic State has grown exponentially. ISIS has used both brutality and perceptive propaganda to attract members worldwide, in ways that are far more sophisticated than al-Qaeda and other jihadist adherents. LOS ... continue reading


'Man of peace, tenacity and courage,' Cardinal Francis George dies aged 78 Watch

Image of Polio during childhood had left the prelate with a weakened leg and a pronounced limp throughout his life. With his death, the College of Cardinals has 223 members, of whom 121 are under 80 and thus eligible to vote for a pope.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Retired Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Francis George has died after a decade of battling cancer at the age of 78. The first native Chicagoan to head the archdiocese, he is being remembered as "a man of peace, tenacity and courage" by his successor Archbishop ... continue reading


Genetic rescuing considered for shrinking wolf population on remote Michigan island Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

There are only three wolves left on Isle Royale, a small island in Michigan Lake's Superior, according to biologists. Researchers said that they do not know what to do or what should be done in order to save the wolves from dying and disrupting the ecology. MUNTINLUPA, ... continue reading


Another scandal shakes Hillary Clinton's presidential ambitions as IRS reports she took millions from foreign governments Watch

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has taken another hit to her reputation with new information coming out that could compromise her chances at becoming president or even the Democratic nominee. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - Recent information has ... continue reading


Controversial 'Killing Jews is Worship' posters soon to be seen plastered around New York City Watch

Image of

By Talia Ramos (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

After being the center of a legal debate, posters with the statement, "Killing Jews is Worship that draws us close to Allah" are going to soon be seen plastered on New York City buses and subways due to the victory of American Freedom Defense Initiative (AFDI) against ... continue reading


Where will the next big quake be? It may not be in California Watch

Image of The American midwest is seeing a rise in the number of earthquakes, likely caused by fracking for oil and natural gas.

By Matt Waterson (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Central and eastern portions of the U.S. have been suffering from a spate of earthquakes over the last few years, and the U.S. Geological Survey believes that human activity may be responsible for this uptick. LOS ANGELES, CA (Catholic Online) - The Geological ... continue reading


Bishop Robert Finn's resignation officially accepted by the Vatican Watch

Image of Bishop Finn served a two-year suspended sentence and the diocese was fined $1.1 million. Finn remained at his administrative duties until just recently and did not serve any jail time as a result of the conviction.

By Catholic Online (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The Vatican has announced the resignation of Bishop Robert Finn of Kansas City-St Joseph. "The Holy Father has accepted the resignation of Bishop Robert W Finn from the pastoral governance" of his diocese, the Vatican said in a statement. LOS ANGELES, CA ... continue reading


'Spill all of their blood' Suburban American girl joins ISIS, encourages others to terrorize 'non-believers' Watch

Image of Hoda Muthana was described as a quiet girl in school.

By Hannah Raissa Marfil (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

Hoda Muthana, 20, shocked her entire suburban community when she joined the extremist Islamic State back in November. Muthana was allegedly brainwashed by the terrorist group when she fled to Syria using her university tuition fee. The young American refused to go back ... continue reading


5.3 MILLION chickens euthanized on Iowa farm as bird flu epidemic devastates Watch

Image of

By Nikky Andres (NEWS CONSORTIUM)

The H5N2 bird flu virus took its biggest toll on a farm in northwest Iowa, in Osceola County. There are seven other Midwestern states that have been hit by the virus. The number of deaths in chickens and turkeys caused by the bird flu virus has been counted to around ... continue reading


Defend Marriage! Sign the Pledge in Solidarity for Marriage, Join the March

Image of Did you read that these defenders of marriage faced tear gas and clubs from the riot police of the French Socialist regime? They sang La Marseillaise, the French National Anthem, and called for the resignation of the President. Most US news sources did not even report on the Paris March. It was led by a growing movement in France called La Manif  Similar marches have occurred in Taiwan and around the world.

By Deacon Keith Fournier

One of the leaders I have the privilege of calling my friend is a great evangelical Christian and constitutional lawyer named Mat Staver. Mat is the Founder and Chairman of Liberty Counsel and Liberty Counsel Action.  We have joined together on many fronts, ... continue reading


All U.S. News

Newsletters

Newsletter Sign Up icon

Stay up to date with the latest news, information, and special offers

Daily Readings

Reading 1, First Peter 5:5-14
5 In the same way, younger people, be subject to the ... Read More

Psalm, Psalms 89:2-3, 6-7, 16-17
2 for you have said: love is built to last for ever, ... Read More

Gospel, Mark 16:15-20
15 And he said to them, 'Go out to the whole world; ... Read More

Saint of the Day

Saint of the Day for April 25th, 2015 Image

St. Mark
April 25: The second Gospel was written by St. Mark, who, in the New ... Read More

Inform, Inspire & Ignite Logo

Find Catholic Online on Facebook and get updates right in your live feed.

Become a fan of Catholic Online on Facebook


Follow Catholic Online on Twitter and get News and Product updates.

Follow us on Twitter